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Biggs confident in Senate budget, others not so sure

Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs (Photo by Evan Wyloge/Arizona Capitol Times)

The Senate is poised to pass a $9.13 billion fiscal 2015 budget on Thursday, and the House may follow suit next week when it begins its own debate on a plan expected to mirror the one proposed by Senate President Andy Biggs.

Yet a question remains, one that Sen. Steve Pierce asked in the Senate’s GOP caucus meeting on Wednesday afternoon: “Do we really expect this to be signed by the governor?”

A curt answered followed from Biggs, R-Gilbert.

“Yes.”

But lawmakers such as Pierce, R-Prescott, have their doubts, and the governor’s own staff has stated that the budget as proposed by Biggs would not get executive approval if it were to reach Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk.

Biggs insists that Brewer may sign the budget he’s proposed, with the caveat that changes will be made on the Senate floor Thursday. Biggs said Wednesday he also acknowledges that the House may make its own amendments to the budget once it reaches that chamber, where he expects representatives will begin working on a budget that’s similar to his own.

“We have really tried to work together this year, and we’re trying to move these things along together,” Biggs said. “So I have no problem with them introducing budget bills. My understanding is they’re going to be mirroring bills or duplicate bills.”

Reps. J.D. Mesnard and John Kavanagh confirmed as much later Wednesday, shortly before the House introduced its own budget bills.

“That’s the plan at this moment. We’re assuming the Senate has the votes, since they’re moving. With that being the case, we decided we’ll begin to work off their budget,” said Mesnard, R-Chandler.

Some lawmakers have their doubts that without major amendments, anything approved by the Legislature will be subject to Brewer’s veto stamp.

Pierce said he’s in the dark on the budget, having been shut out of discussion about the Senate’s spending proposal. But one thing he’s certain of is that Biggs’ budget doesn’t include the funding Brewer requested in January for some of her top priorities.

Neither does a House spending plan, revealed in a budget document obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times.

Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said the Senate budget plan was unacceptable to the governor, though he declined to comment on any specific details. He acknowledged that there is always some give-and-take in budget negotiations, but said Brewer has made her priorities clear and wants them funded.

While Brewer asked for $25 million for the conversion of Child Protective Services into an independent agency, both the House and Senate proposals offer $5 million. Brewer’s request for $10 million to update the CHILDS automation system that tracks cases of abuse and neglect was cut in half, to $5 million in both legislative budgets. And her request for $21.5 million for new child safety staff was pared down to $11.8 million.

Also missing from the House and Senate budgets: $13.5 million to fund a new high school assessment to test the Common Core education standards. The snub hasn’t gone unnoticed by Arizona’s business community, which sent a letter to all 90 lawmakers Wednesday urging them not to support a Senate budget that doesn’t include the funding necessary to implement a new test.

“We were pleased to see them put something forward. But those numbers are far off from what the governor has proposed and from what the governor will accept,” Wilder said. “She has made clear what her priorities are, what is important to her that is laid out in her budget proposal. And that is the proposal that she would like to see.”

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